ATHENS — Kirby Smart doesn’t buy into his own team’s hype, and that’s one of the personality traits of the Georgia football coach that keeps the Bulldogs at the top.
The most recent example came in the days leading up to Georgia’s noon game against South Carolina at Sanford Stadium (TV: ESPN), when Smart was asked about his team’s rushing defense.
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs are No. 5 in the nation at stopping the run, and they’re the only program not to give up a rushing touchdown through five games.
“We’re proud of the fact we haven’t given up a rushing touchdown, but there have not been a lot of opportunities, unfortunately, because some of those times they scored, they scored from further out,” Smart said.
“We’ve got a defense that has to continue to get better. We’ve got to tackle better, we’ve got to force more turnovers, we’ve got to get more three-and-outs.”
Here are 3 keys for Georgia against South Carolina
Sharpen run defense
Let’s stick with the theme, because the Gamecocks represent the best rushing attack the Bulldogs will have seen to this point of the season.
South Carolina’s athletic offensive line enables it to pull effectively and get its backs out into space, In their most recent outing, a 24-7 win over Kentucky, the Gamecocks produced 247 yards rushing with two 100-yard rushers, Rico Dowdle (102) and Tavien Feaster (107).
Dowdle is South Carolina’s No. 16 all-time leading rusher (2,039 yards), on the verge of passing Derek Watson (1999-2001, 2,078 yards).
Notre Dame, which ranks No. 61 in the nation rushing, has been the best run attack UGA as seen. The Irish were missing their top tailback when they fell to the Bulldogs, 23-17 on Sept. 21.
Control the football
All things being equal, the only shot South Carolina has for an upset at Sanford Stadium is to win the turnover battle, and it will likely need plus-2, at that.
Georgia ranks second in the SEC in time of possession (33:11) and South Carolina ranks last (27:09). The eye-popping difference is a byproduct of the Bulldogs’ offensive efficiency, both passing and running the football, and South Carolina’s inconsistencies.
Jake Fromm has no interceptions, and he’s been sacked only once, keeping UGA in respectable down-and-distance situations.
The Alabama and Missouri offenses had only one three-and-out series each in their wins over the Gamecocks this season.
Contain Bryan Edwards
There’s an old coaching axiom that states: “Never get beat by the other team’s best player.”
Where the South Carolina offense is concerned, that would be receiver Bryan Edwards, the Gamecocks’ second all-time leading receiver in catches (190) and third in yards (2,577).
Edwards scorched Georgia for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns on seven catches last season while UGA first-round cornerback Deandre Baker focused on former Gamecock WR Deebo Samuel.
Last week, Tennessee had two receivers go over 100 yards against the Bulldogs cornerbacks and their supporting safeties. Jauan Jennings (7-114-TD) and Marquez Callaway (3-105-1) found success working with a first-time starter and freshman at QB.
Georgia starting cornerback Tyson Campbell is questionable for the game with an injured foot, which could lead to a third start for junior college transfer DJ Daniel.